Try as they might, no one can stop the Maroons.
Chicago softball continued its remarkable run of success this weekend, sweeping a double-header against Calvin College Friday. The wins improved the 20th-ranked Maroons to an 18-1 record on the season and extended their winning streak to 14 games.
The team won the first game 6-0 behind a one-hit, complete game shutout by third-year starter Hannah Roberts. The shutout was her seventh of the season. With the win, Roberts's record climbed to an astounding 11-0, and her ERA dropped to 0.19. So far, Roberts went 19-5 with a school record 0.25 ERA last year, and has benefited this season from the addition of another pitch.
"This season, Hannah has expanded her repertoire," said head coach Ruth Kmak. "She needed to add a drop pitch in addition to her curve and fastball. Using more pitches, in addition to better calling by our catchers, has made her even more effective."
The game remained tight until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Chicago benefited from an error, walk, and passed ball, and blew the game open with four runs.
Third-year catcher Randi Leppla led the team's offense with two RBIs and a run scored on the day.
Chicago won the second game in dramatic fashion, on a walk-off, two-out single by third-year designated hitter Kate Rhodes that drove home Leppla. Second-year starter Petra Wade allowed four hits and struck out twelve batters for a 1-0 shutout victory. The win improved her season record to 7-1, and lowered her ERA to 0.98.
Part of the Maroons' success this season has come as a result of a more balanced starting pitching trio, consisting of Roberts, Wade, and second-year Lauren Hula.
"Our team pitching has been a big component of our success," Kmak said. "All three of them have ERAs less than one, and we're not relying so much on Hannah. The whole team is developing confidence in the entire pitching staff."
The team's offense has also dramatically improved this year. While the team struggled at the plate late in the season last spring, Chicago has averaged 5.6 runs a game this season, compared with 3.35 last season, with a dismal 1.6 mark over the final fifteen games.
"There is just a belief that we are going to score. We have a confidence that our offense is going to come through this year, which we haven't always had," Kmak said. "Last year we started thinking a little too much at the plate. This year we have had some big innings, and we've had great team offense. We're doing little things like hitting behind the runner and advancing the runner much better this season. Team offense is always a significant challenge but we have really improved."
Key to this step-up has been the addition of first-years Dominique Marshall, Vanessa Pineros, and Cassie Wierenga. Marshall has started all 19 games for the Maroons and led the offensive burst, leading the team in batting average with a .340 mark.
"All three have been very important to us," Kmak said. "Dominique has been hitting cleanup for us all year, and she is starting to hit for power and average. Vanessa catches for Petra, and she calls a really great game. She's also a slap hitter, which adds a different dimension to our offense. Cassie has mostly been used as a pinch runner and hitter, but she's been extremely effective in those roles."
Some difficult challenges still lie ahead for the Maroons. This weekend, the team heads to the Illinois Wesleyan Invitational where they will face four difficult opponents in Hope, Maryville, Washington University, and Fontbonne.
Despite the potential stumbling blocks ahead, these Maroons possess a certain swagger that was lacking in their predecessors. They have come back from deficits several times already this season, and appear poised to make a deep playoff run.
"The combination of our pitching and our offensive confidence has really made all the difference this year," Kmak said.